Have you ever felt like replaying a game you haven’t touched in years, and then felt slightly disappointed when you do? There’s an image of it in your mind and you remember what it like the first time you played – but are let down when what you’re playing now doesn’t match up.
I’ve had the opportunity to take part in several game-swaps with other bloggers this year and this has given me the chance to try some older releases I’ve not experienced before. First up was Luke from Hundstrasse, who sent me Whiplash for my PlayStation 2 after we decided to find the most bizarre retro titles we could. Next was Athena from AmbiGaming with whom I swapped favourite games, and you can find out what I made of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty in last Wednesday’s post.
In return, Athena bravely challenged herself to play Fable on her Twitch channel every week until she’d completed it. Work conference calls sometimes got in the way but I tuned in as often as I could and, watching her experience the title that had me back into gaming in my early 20s, I remembered a lot of fond memories and found myself wanting to play it again myself. That weekend I turned on our Xbox One, tracked down Fable Anniversary on Game Pass, hit the install button and waited eagerly with the controller in hand.
I’ll always love this series. I understand why it gets a lot of criticism in certain respects, one of them being that it never lived up to the expectations that the proclamations of designer Peter Molyneux set for it, but I can see past that. To me he was someone who was pushing the boundaries, being inventive, taking risks instead of churning out cardboard-copy titles and I can admire him for that; and there’s a chance that without Fable, I wouldn’t be a gamer today or be sitting here writing about my hobby.
Playing through the start of Fable Anniversary reminded me of how much the original title had pulled me in back in 2004. It was something to do with the land of Albion, its real-but-fantasy setting which felt like something out of a fairytale and made you believe the protagonist was destined for great things. It was the world’s inhabitants too: perhaps my favourite thing about them is the humour, and anyone who enjoys a Monty-Python-style of comedy is sure to find something here which appeals to them.
But damn, the controls were bad. Like, really bad. I didn’t remember it being like this before and had no trouble picking up the title all those years ago. But now the buttons felt as though they were back to front and I was behaving like an uncoordinated mess (more so than usual). Accessing the menus felt counter-intuitive, the items on the D-pad changed continuously and the camera never stayed where I wanted it to. No wonder Athena had remarked about the control scheme on a few occasions during her streams.
She also made a comment about certain releases being ‘games of their time’ during her next session on Twitch the following week and this really struck a chord with me. It completely hit the nail on the head when it came to the original Fable. Its story and humour were still current enough and the graphics didn’t let it down too much, plus it had been positively received when it had been released 16-years ago. But the controls had aged terribly and made playing the title sluggish, giving it a heavy and dated feeling.
I feel the same way whenever I turn on my PlayStation 2 nowadays. The console may have had some great releases but I dislike the controller immensely now, mainly because the jump button never seems like it’s in the right place. I had to hand it over to my other-half while playing Whiplash for my game-swap with Luke because there were certain bits I just couldn’t get to grips with; and I made the decision to play MGS2 on our Xbox for my collaboration with Athena, thinking it may be easier with a modern controller.
It didn’t help much though. I struggled with the way the protagonist insisted on sticking to walls whenever I got too close to them and he wouldn’t do certain actions unless I removed his weapon first. I may had had a few issues with my first Kojima game but as several people in the Twitch chat said to us: there was nothing on the market back in 2001 which was as cinematic or ambitious in what it was trying to deliver, so I can imagine it was something truly spectacular for players at the time.
I guess that’s what ‘games of their time’ are. They may feel old and outdated to us but, when you look back on what they managed to achieve when they we released, it’s clear there was something special about them. Without these titles we may not be where we are today in terms of narrative strength, innovative mechanics or impressive visuals and you can see their influence in many of today’s titles. We might not get the same feeling from playing them now but we’ve still got a lot to thank them for.
The next game-swap lined up is with Ellen from Ace Asunder. She was rather put off of full-motion video (FMV) after watching us play the strange Dark Nights with Poe and Munro in May so I’ve sent her copies of Her Story and The Madness of Doctor Dekker to prove that there are some good entries in the genre. In return she has gifted me Final Fantasy XIII to help me get over my aversion to turn-based combat, so we’ll see if we manage to convince each other to come around to the others’ way of thinking and open our eyes to new genres.
FFXIII was released in 2009 so it’s a little newer than the other titles I’ve played for game-swaps so far, relatively speaking. I’m curious to find out if it turns out to be another game of its time, and whether I’ll see what it is that makes it special for Ellen.